Keys to watch for the (not-Packers Related) Wild Card games

Garda has a key for you to watch each game not involving the Packers on Wild Card weeked.

It’s here, Wild Card Weekend! The Packers take on the Washington Racist Nicknames but as the game takes place last (best for last? I’ll let you decide, my team is home sobbing) you’ll have some time to kill before hand.

Since there are only three other games I’ve decided to give you a specific thing (homework!) in each of the other Wild Card games.

If you want to know my full thoughts on the game, feel free to check out this week’s podcast.

We’ll start with Saturday’s games in order, unlike the podcast where I did everything backwards.


Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans, Saturday, 4:35PM EST ESPN

Both teams have very good defenses so this game will come down to Brian Hoyer. As I wrote this week at Sports on Earth, the Texans are going to have to look to Hoyer to make a big play this game and I just cannot see it happening.

It’s not that Hoyer isn’t a decent quarterback—he is—he’s just not a guy who is going to carry you to the promised land. Alex Smith has at least proven to be slightly above average, but Hoyer is who he is. He might get you to the playoffs but I don’t think he’s winning anything.

I could be wrong though and that’s why how Hoyer deals with the intense pressure the Chiefs bring is what you have to keep an eye on during this game. He’s got DeAndre Hopkins to throw to, but Hopkins has struggled at times with the extra focus. Hoyer’s going to have to find a way to get him the ball though, or else work it to Jaelen Strong, Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts and you can see potential issues with that.

Hoyer needs to find the next level of his play if there is one. He’s the key to this game.


Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals, Saturday, 8:15 PM EST CBS

The theme to watch here is similar to what you’re looking at for the early game with a twist.

Yes, you have to wonder if an inexperienced quarterback (A.J. McCarron) can figure out how to win in his first playoff game, but you add in the question of what Steelers defense is going to show up. The defense that held Cleveland to 12 points and Indianapolis to 10 or the one that got lit up by Denver, and Seattle? Or in between, the one which did enough to get a win the last time these teams met.

The Steelers defense has been streaky, but you’re not dealing with an elite quarterback Saturday night. Heck, you’re not even dealing with Andy Dalton. They should be able to shut McCarron down by pressuring him and getting him skittish. Even though he has A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert as well as two good running backs, McCarron has to make the throws.

The battle between a young and unproven quarterback versus a streaky and inconsistent defense is the one to watch here and will be the key to the game.

Sidenote: how awesome will the hot takes be if McCarron manages to take the Bengals to the second round of the playoffs when Dalton has failed so many times? Some people just want to see the world burn – that’s me this weekend.

Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, 1:05 PM EST NBC

Of course, the game you guys are probably watching most closely both because the Packers could see either team in a later round and because the fans hate both teams. The enemy of my enemy…should also die in fire?

Assuming a comet doesn’t destroy both teams, the battle here again involves the quarterback but with another twist.

The Seahawks will focus on stopping Adrian Peterson to make teddy Bridgewater beat them through the air. That’s obvious and with a secondary like Seattle’s that feels like as good as a win, right?

But—and it’s a bit one—the key to this game isn’t that. We know that’s going to happen and it’d be easy to say “the key to the game is Adrian Peterson overcoming the front seven” but to me the more interesting thing is how Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner reacts to the run being shut down.

To me, the key is how the team uses running back Jerrick McKinnon.

Packers fans saw it last week—Turner had McKinnon out wide, in the slot, all over—and it worked pretty well, though they didn’t totally commit to it. Turner’s tendency when Peterson gets shut down is to throw (of course) and take some shots downfield but the receivers never get separation and Bridgewater hasn’t proven he can beat downfield coverage. On top of it, the offensive line play doesn’t lend itself to giving Bridgewater time to make those throws or the receivers to get open.

Enter McKinnon, a versatile back who is good in pass coverage, can catch the ball and do pretty much everything Peterson can’t even if Peterson is a much better player running the ball.

The problem with how the team uses McKinnon is that when he’s in the backfield you know it’s a pass play 99% of the time.

So can Turner get creative when Peterson is jammed at the line? Will he use McKinnon as he did last week, will he use him on wheel routes and to disguise plays? Will he line him up at the same time he has Peterson?

The answer to that is likely what this game hinges on and what you should be watching for.

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Comments (3)

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Bearmeat's picture

January 09, 2016 at 01:24 pm

Game one - Chiefs just because they've sucked forever.
Game two - Bengals because eff the Steelers
Game three - Go team meteor

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Tundraboy's picture

January 09, 2016 at 02:37 pm

Meteor!! Loved that.

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egbertsouse's picture

January 10, 2016 at 08:56 am

Hey Cincy! Karma is a bitch, ain't it!

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